Today, food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers and distributors need to perform traceability around all their products to head off financial and brand damage. For example, how will July’s recall of McDonald’s salads in multiple states affect suppliers? After being featured in articles like McDonald’s salad suspected in parasite outbreak, McDonald’s will review their suppliers to prevent future issues. And supermarket supplier Greenyard Frozen UK – how will the recall of 43 sweetcorn-based products affect them?
Major manufacturers and suppliers can often weather such storms and salvage retailer relationships, but smaller suppliers won’t fare so well. So how can you avoid recalls? This blog closely examines two significant factors in recalls: recall types and product traceability information management.
In the case of McDonald’s in the United States, an outbreak of intestinal illnesses in Illinois and Iowa resulted from consumers eating salads from McDonald's. Illinois reported 90 between mid-May and mid-July linked to the cyclospora parasite, with more than 20 of those cases involving consumers who ate salads at McDonald's restaurants. Iowa has also recorded 15 cases from late June to mid-July.
When one considers the relationship between McDonald’s and their salad supplier(s), it is easy to understand the strains given that McDonald's now must put an operation and legal team to work as they collaborate with officials in Illinois and Iowa. Add to this the lost revenue from halting salad sales at numerous locations and from consumers choosing to go elsewhere, and there is little wonder that a McDonald’s spokesperson stated that McDonald's will also be switching lettuce suppliers.
As for the sweetcorn-based recall in the UK, the situation is more complex than just one supplier selling bad product. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said listeria (which can cause a rare and deadly illness) has been affecting Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the UK since 2015. The same strain of listeria was detected in frozen vegetables produced by a Hungarian company in 2016, 2017 and 2018, according to the EFSA. This means that suppliers with robust traceability programs should have been able to identify the recent risky source of the problem and avoid purchasing from that source.
Many food suppliers believe they either don’t handle high-risk products or play no role in the factors causing recalls. They believe product recalls involve deadly bacteria and other pathogens that put consumers’ health at risk; however, of the 438 food recalls issued by the FDA and USDA in 2017, only one-third were due to the potential presence of harmful pathogens in ready-to-eat foods. The leading cause of recalls was undeclared allergens and products being mislabeled, with 218 products affected in 2017.
Therefore, all food suppliers, whether they manufacture or handle high-risk products or not, can be the cause of a recall – which is why food suppliers need robust traceability capabilities to avoid recalls (and react swiftly if one occurs).
Traceability information for every food product you sell associates a broad range of data with each product batch or lot you ship, including:
Traceability data should be automatically associated with production data, and your information system should automatically trace ingredients at each production stage and maintain lot- or batch-specific data. This makes tracing product more meaningful, as each traced batch yields quality control data and raw material supply data, making it easier to isolate problems and find resolutions if a product recall occurs.
There are several reasons suppliers are managing product traceability with a software-based system. First, tracking multiple products using the aforementioned data points is overwhelmingly difficult and would likely break down, eliminating supply chain visibility.
Second, many customers have already begun to demand integrated information to keep their own traceability operations in order. As the McDonald’s case demonstrates, retailers are also adopting backward traceability; if they can shift blame in any direction of the supply chain to protect their brand image, they will. To avoid becoming a recall scapegoat, suppliers should retain information supporting their “innocence” in product health or labeling issues.
The third reason for software-based system traceability is to streamline operations and gain efficiency. Consider your modern ERP system – you already use it for inventory and location control. Combined with its flexible information management capabilities, you have a central source for staying up to date on the increasingly complex sets of rules governing food safety and quality checks.
ERP systems can incorporate workflows that produce product labels and prohibit products from passing to specific stages in the fulfillment cycle before traceability and ‘label checks’ occur. A typical food supplier can easily model such checks into their ERP-driven workflows and adjust them to new requirements retailers and regulators may impose.
Today’s ERP systems are the most logical and efficient vehicle for collaborating both upstream and downstream in your supply chain so everyone has the insights they need to prevent product recalls.
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